This murder broadside published by James Catnach in the early 19th century is probably a work of fiction, though may have been inspired by an earlier tale set in the West Country nearly 200 years before. The text describes the murderous activities of one Thomas Johnson and his wife, who live in penury on the edge of Dartmoor with their ailing 17-year-old daughter and their lodger of a similar age. On hearing that their lodger is possessed of a small amount of cash the Johnson’s creep into the bedroom where the two girls share a bed and cut the throat of the lodger, with the intention of then stealing her money. Only when the couple place the body in a shallow grave do they discover that they have in fact murdered their own daughter by mistake.
The tension and suspense within the text of this broadside evokes the popularity of stage melodramas that existed in Victorian Britain. The text describes how the night was wild and stormy, with the sky lit by ‘blue flashes of lightning’. Also present is the mistaken sighting of a ghost.